History of the Chapter

An Idea is Sprung

In the Spring of 2003, VU civil engineering student Bob Yamtich was looking for a way to combine his passion for international service with engineering. Bob soon discovered Engineers Without Borders-USA and thought that the Valparaiso community had a need for such an organization. He then approached V.U. Professors Schmucker and Polito and presented his idea. All agreed upon the need for this type of organizational presence and thus the seeds of V.U.’s EWB chapter were planted.

Shortly thereafter, Bob was walking through Gellersen Hall and spotted fellow student Jonn Kusch. The two began talking about problems faced by the international community and what engineers could do to help. Bob then mentioned his idea for officially starting an EWB chapter at Valparaiso and asked if Jonn would like him to help organize it. Jonn agreed.

The First Brainstorm

In early April 2003, Bob, Professors Schmucker and Polito, and Jonn brainstormed about how to organize an EWB chapter on campus. The meeting lasted for about an hour, and by the time it ended, a plan of action was formed. The first meeting of EWB-VU would be held after an all-out publicity campaign. Then, the professors would get the approval from the College of Engineering while Bob and Jonn would secure official recognition from the V.U. Student Senate.

The First Meeting

The first meeting of EWB-VU was held in April 2003 in Gellersen 131. About forty-five students and faculty attended. EWB was introduced to the Valparaiso community and nominations were held for the first set of officers to guide the young chapter. The response from students and faculty was overwhelming and the chapter quickly began planning for its next meeting and for determining its long-term goals.

Campus Recognition

After the great response from the first meeting, Dean Olejniczak of the College of Engineering gave his approval for the group to form as one of the College of Engineering student organizations. With his approval secured, Bob and Jonn went before Student Senate and were approved as a campus-wide organization by a unanimous vote.

Our First Project

Finally, the second meeting was held and elections took place. It was also decided at this time that a project for the 2004 year was needed to maintain a healthy V.U. chapter. Over the summer, Jonn and first chapter advisor, Prof. Polito, sent numerous e-mails to EWB-USA requesting a project. At the end of the Summer of 2003, College of Business Professor Elizabeth Gingerich joined the group to initially help with marketing the chapter’s name within the community and organizing fundraising efforts.  With this type of interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration, civil engineer and EWB-USA member Mark Reiner – a V.U. alumnus and brother of Professor Gingerich – was convinced that the new V.U. chapter had the resources, determination, and commitment to receive a project. Valparaiso University has the distinction of being the first student chapter to receive an EWB-USA project outside the State of Colorado. And as they say, the rest is history.

EWB-Valpo Kenya Project (2004-2008)

For decades, the community of Nakor, in the Turkana region of Northwestern Kenya, has been severely impacted by drought. Its drinking water supply had been primarily extracted from shallow, open wells and there was no long-term water storage for crop irrigation.

Gene Morden, M.A. in Agriculture, sponsored by Christian Missionary Fellowship International (CMF), brought this project to the attention of EWB-USA in 2003 through Mark Reiner, EWB-USA Director of Civil Resources. The project arose from the missionary work of Gene Morden and his family in this area of Kenya since the mid-1990s. Initially, CMF helped provide food assistance to the villagers.

EWB-Valpo made three visits to this area (2004, 2005 and 2006) installing eleven windmill-powered water systems with the help of the local Turkana villagers. The drip-line irrigation systems feed multiple community gardens which produce 4-5 crops each year and generate bartering material for the local villagers to acquire additional animals (primarily camels and goats and most recently, donkeys) and of other types of food grown elsewhere in the area.

The Morden family requested that EWB-Valpo return to this area in 2008, as the winds had virtually stopped during the daytime for the first time in recorded history, greatly compromising water production for drinking and crop irrigation. Also, several other windmills had become disabled due to broken or missing mechanical parts. EWB-Valpo decided to retro-fit several of the under-functioning units with solar pumps and panels. Additionally, the Chapter constructed a merry-go-round powered system that harnesses the power of children’s play to pump water for garden irrigation. 

To learn more, follow this link to EWB-Valpo Youtube channel.


2010 Implementation/Assesment Trip (February 27, 2010 -- March 13, 2010)


  • Installed a gate-lifting mechanism onto an already existing steel gate at the canal intake structure.
  • Installed adjustable gates and repaired the deteriorating concrete floor at the 2nd and 3rd canal junctions to facilitate the distribution of water throughout the village. *
  • Repaired two breaches in the concrete wall of the upper portion of the canal
  • Obtained elevations using differential surveying methods and cross-section dimensions at numerous points along the upper mile of the canal.
  • Estimated flow rate value by obtaining water velocity measurements with the use of float rods.
  • Obtained other engineering data to aid in the design of future canal implementation projects.
  • Conducted an assessment of Junction 1.
  • Conducted a preliminary assessment of the failing piped-water system.

 *  The gates were successfully installed by the EWB-VU chapter, but due to a lack of quality drill bits and surprisingly hard steel, all of the necessary holes for the adjustable gate design were not drilled.  The villagers completed this task within five weeks of EWB-VU’s departure.